It's a sad day in the fictional world of Bikini Bottom. Stephen Hillenburg, the man who created SpongeBob Squarepants and his undersea pals, has died at age 57, reports Variety. Hillenburg, who revealed last year that he had ALS, didn't start out as an animator. As the Hollywood Reporter notes, he graduated from Humboldt State in 1984 with a bachelor's in Natural Resource Planning and Interpretation. But it all begins to make sense with his degree's emphasis: marine resources. After working as a marine biology teacher for a few years, Hillenburg got his master's degree in his other great interest, animation. He would go on to famously combine the two with SpongeBob.
Nearly 250 episodes have aired since the first one on Nickelodeon in 1999, and Hillenburg also wrote two SpongeBob movies, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie in 2004 and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water in 2015. “Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere," said a Nickelodeon statement. "His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship, and the limitless power of imagination.” Hillenburg is survived by his wife, Karen, and son, Clay. (SpongeBob has been climbing the ranks of TV characters.)